Spring Is In The Air (and in the Pond)

It is now a couple of weeks since the official start of spring, but it’s felt like it’s been a bit slow actually happening. But having looked at some of the animals we’ve seen in the last few weeks, maybe spring is slowly, tentatively, making itself known after all.

So first up, one of my all time favourites and the first bee of the year – the Hairy Footed Flower Bee. As is so often the case with these, I heard it before I saw it – a male buzzing energetically around the primroses. No sign of any females yet, I think they emerge slightly later.

March also sees the start of the annual Garden Moth Scheme. It’s been a particularly cold and wet start so I’ve not had a huge variety, but numbers are slowly picking up. Here’s a nice trio of the Orthosia genus – a Common Quaker, Clouded Drab & Twin-spotted Quaker.

The moths may be trickling in, but the butterflies have been very slow – not seen a single one in the garden yet this year. But we went for a walk in nearby Priory Gardens a week or so ago and spotted quite a few. A bright yellow Brimstone (way too fast to get a photo), several Commas and at least half a dozen Small Tortoiseshells – all basking in the sunshine.

One thing I’ve been particularly looking forward to is the arrival of frog spawn in our allotment pond. We put the pond in too late last year to get spawn laid, but this year we were good to go and the frogs didn’t disappoint. Here’s a quick video using the new GoPro camera. More froggy updates to follow in the next blog post as the tadpoles develop.

 

We didn’t see any frog spawn in the ponds at Priory Gardens, but there was plenty of bird activity. A couple of moorhens and lots of ducks, including this splendid looking mallard. There’s something about watching ducks on a pond in the sunshine that is not only really relaxing, but feels very spring-like to me.

The previous blog post was all about the peregrines up on the hill, but they weren’t the only birds we saw that day. This male bullfinch looked to be enjoying the spring sunshine sitting on a wild cherry tree (cherry blossom buds being one of their favourite foods apparently).

We also spotted jackdaws that had found some crevices in the rock face to nest in. The hole didn’t look that big, but they were taking quite sizeable twigs in there, so perhaps it opened out inside.

I don’t know if this dunnock was sensing spring or just feeling a bit odd, but it was behaving very strangely. It spent about 10 minutes sitting on top of the hedgehog house (not a safe spot since the neighbour’s cat often sits there), fluffing up its feathers repeatedly and shuffling about. It looked almost as if it was incubating eggs but there was no nest there (I did check it hadn’t laid anything). It stretched its neck out a few times and gaped its beak as well. I know dunnocks have some weird mating habits, but there didn’t seem to be another dunnock around for it to impress with the behaviour. Whatever it was doing it got fed up eventually and flew off into the bushes quite normally. If anyone can shed any light on the behaviour, it would be very much appreciated.

The dunnock may have been behaving strangely, but it was perfectly obvious what this blue tit was up to – gathering nest material. I saw someone suggest recently that you could provide nesting material by tying two hanging basket frames together to form a rough ball and filling them with moss and the like. Apologies to whoever’s idea it was, as I can’t remember where I saw it to be able to credit them properly – but it was a great idea, thank you. We had some old hanging baskets kicking around the garage and the “lawn” is full of moss,  so this was an easy idea to achieve. And the blue tits seem to appreciate it as almost immediately they started taking great beakfuls of moss and flying off with it.

Once it had got a beak’s worth of moss it would then stop on a twig to rearrange the moss a bit more tidily (presumably so it could see where it was flying), before taking off.

If only these blue tits had taken the moss back to the lovely nesting box with camera in that we’ve now had up for 2 years in exactly the spot where they used to nest! But no, they must be nesting elsewhere and all we’ve got on the nestcam is a spider’s web! Still at least we know they are nesting somewhere and that we’ve helped a little bit.

And finally spring must surely be on its way because our hedgehog is back! Whether it is Fat Sam from last year emerged from hibernation or a completely different hog, I have no idea. But it looks big and healthy and has a good appetite.

None of these signs of spring maybe big newsworthy events,  but sometimes it’s spotting the small things in life that gives the most pleasure. And we’re certainly very happy that spring is finally on its way to Malvern.

 

Easter Peregrines

We woke up this morning to a surprise – the sun was actually shining! We hadn’t been expecting to do much wildlife watching today, but headed up the Malverns as quickly as we could, before the weather could change its mind. We’ve been wanting to head up the hill for a week or so now, since a fellow Malvern resident (Jude thank you so much) mentioned Peregrine Falcons, but the hills have tended to be shrouded in mist. Not ideal for bird watching, so we grabbed the chance today.

So we headed up to what we hoped was roughly the right area. A friendly dog-walker assured us that yes, he heard them almost every day, then paused and said “but not today”! Undeterred we carried on and almost immediately heard the distinctive calls. Chris then spotted this one circling above us.

We would have been perfectly happy with this outcome – one falcon seen and heard, but then it got even better. High up in a tree we saw it land and there were two! (You wait all your life to see one peregrine then two come along!) Not only two, but judging by their next activities they were clearly a male and a female. We were a long way away and really at the limit of our lenses, but Chris caught “the action” on camera.

It didn’t last very long then the male perched on a branch above her. The female looked a bit rumpled by all the activity.

Since we were such a long way away, we found another path and headed further up the hill. Chris left me puffing and panting in his wake as he sprinted (a bit of artistic licence there) up and found a better vantage point. The pair were still sitting in the same tree – I think the female is the one on the left and the male is on the right with his back to us – but happy to be corrected on this.

They stayed there for another 10 minutes or so, allowing Chris to get some half decent shots of the one facing us. You can really see the size of those talons!

So a lovely surprise on a Sunday morning – two gorgeous falcons almost on our doorstep. Now we know to look for them, I think this will be the first of many trips to see them. Fingers crossed, given today’s activities, that they build a nest and produce eggs in the near future.

Spring Cleaning

There’s been a lot in the press and on social media lately about the importance of cleaning your bird feeders. This is something we all probably know we should do, but don’t get around to as often as we should – I know we are definitely guilty of this. So with the first day of spring last week, what better time to have a spring clean for our feathered friends. Armed with a bucket, rubber gloves, scrubbing and bottle brushes I set to work.

I hadn’t really noticed how many bird feeders we’d actually got, until I came to have to clean them! It seemed best to do them in 2 lots, not only because there were quite a few, but so that the birds still had something out there left to eat while I slaved over the bucket. All washed, the two batches got hung out to dry in a rare spot of sunshine.

The bird baths got a good scrub too, since the  birds seem to use them for all manner of bodily functions, not just drinking and washing! It might just be a coincidence, but having cleaned the birdbaths, I’ve seen goldfinches using them for the first time – they must be fussier than the other birds!

I was a bit concerned that the birds might have been put off by me interfering with their feeders, but I needn’t have worried. They were back on them in no time. I must have hung the suet balls in a slightly different position, as the starlings could now reach them from below rather than balancing from above.

The blue tits were equally happy with a nice fresh supply of peanuts.

There are plenty of vantage points to reach the suet logs, but for some reason our female blackcap preferred to contort at this odd angle to reach a particular bit.

The male blackcap took a much more standard approach.

The goldfinches have been regular visitors to the niger seeds for a few weeks now, but the siskins’ visits are much more intermittent. So it was great today when this male siskin turned up and stayed long enough for me to grab the camera and sneak out the patio doors to get some photos. I had hoped it would sit facing the goldfinch so I could get profile shots of them both, but you can’t have everything!

So the feeders are all clean and the birds seem happy with my efforts. I’ve made a note on the calendar to try and clean them a bit more regularly from now on.

Although I was happy with the bird feeder cleaning, last week was actually a very sad one for us. We had to say goodbye to our beautiful Norwegian Forest Cat, Puddle. She’d been with us for the last 13 years, since she was a kitten and we are devastated to lose her – far too soon. Although an indoor cat, she loved sitting watching the birds with me from the comfort of the sofa. She was the sweetest natured cat I think I’ve ever known, and I will miss her for ever.

 

The Darling Bugs Of May

Apologies for the title, couldn’t resist a bad pun! After the quiet winter and early spring months, all the insects are suddenly emerging in May. It feels like our garden is gearing itself up again ready for the 30 Days Wild in June. Everywhere I look there is something buzzing (everywhere except the bee hotel I’ve put up which is of course silent!)

May wouldn’t be May with out the arrival of the May Bugs in the moth trap. These huge beetles can apparently be a pest for farmers, but I love seeing them. They are fascinating animals and I can still remember my amazement the first time I found one in the moth trap a few years ago. (Chris wasn’t so excited when I woke him up to show him my find!)

One of the areas particularly buzzing at the moment is a patch of poached egg flowers that I’d sown last year. I’d forgotten about them, but they all popped back again this year and look fantastic. I’d grown them originally as I’d read they were good for hoverflies – not sure about that but the bees love them!

Most of the bees are plain old honey bees (very welcome all the same of course).

There were also a few of these very small furrow bees Lasioglossum sp. It’s virtually impossible to get this one to species level without killing and examining it, which I’m not prepared to do, so it will have to remain a sp.

This next bee is one of the yellow faced bees – Hylaeus sp. Unfortunately since I didn’t manage to get a shot of its face, I also can’t identify this one to species. But since I’ve not recorded any other Hylaeus, I’ve counted this as bee species number 30 for the garden!

This next one did get identified to species (not by me but by a kind soul on facebook) as Osmia caerulescens – the Blue Mason Bee. This was also a new species for the garden, making 31 in total now over the last 2 years!

The bees weren’t the only ones enjoying a poached egg. This beetle (some kind of click beetle I think) spent a long time perusing the flowers.

This Hairy Shieldbug didn’t move much, just seemed to be using the flowers as a vantage point to survey the garden!

And of course my favourite – the Swollen Thighed Beetle had to get in on the act, displaying his fat thighs nicely.

The poached egg plants weren’t favoured by all the bees; some preferred other flowers like this Early Bumblebee on the alliums

and this Common Carder bee on a campion.

Somewhat inevitably the new bee hotel that I put up in the spring has been virtually ignored by all the bees. But at least it provided a resting place for this shieldbug.

The hoverflies were supposed to be interested in the poached egg flowers, but like most things in the garden, they never do what I expect! This little marmalade hoverfly preferred this small yellow flower to the slightly brash poached eggs.

This large fat bumblebee-mimicking hoverfly (Merodon equestris) preferred just to perch on the leg of the bird table. Even when I had to move the bird table to a different part of the garden, the hoverfly followed it over – no idea why?

After a very quiet spring moth-wise, May has finally brought an increase in their numbers to the moth trap. The moths of winter and early spring are generally fairly subdued looking, so it’s always nice when some of the more interesting species start emerging. I love this Pale Tussock with its lovely furry legs.

The Buff Tip is a regular visitor to our garden – it has the amazing ability to look just like a broken twig.

The hawkmoths are the biggest of our native species. Over the years we’ve had Elephants, Small Elephants, Eyed and Poplar Hawk-moths but never a Lime one. So I was thrilled when not one but two turned up last night!

With more moths emerging, more of their foes have emerged too. This beautiful but deadly (if you’re a moth of the wrong species) wasp Ichneumon stramentor parasitizes moth caterpillars.

As well as all of the above, there have been plenty of beetles, flies, caddis flies, daddy longlegs and other insects buzzing around this May, I just haven’t managed to take any photos of those. Something for another blog post maybe. But finally one of my favourite images from the month, a ladybird, even if it is a Harlequin rather than one of our native ones.

Hedgehog Awareness Week

Today marks the start of Hedgehog Awareness Week – an annual event focussed on all things hoggy, organised by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society. I’ve been saving up hedgehog related news for a few weeks now, in readiness for Awareness Week and I’ve got a surprising amount to report!

The big news for me personally was that I handed my notice in at my previous job and had planned to have a bit of time off. That was until I spotted an admin job going at the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) – it was just too tempting to resist.  I applied and am absolutely thrilled to say I got the job! It’s only 2 days a week which is absolutely perfect for me as it gives me plenty of time to be not weeding the garden! So here is my new place of work:

The next big piece of news is that Meadow our foster hedgehog has now been released into the Too Lazy To Weed garden. I took him back to be checked over by Viv at Malvern Hedgehog Rescue before we released him. This is him in the cat basket on the way there.

Viv checked his weight (he’d actually put on a lot of weight as apparently the catfood he’d been on for the last few weeks was a bit rich for him – I’ll know better next time) and then gave the go ahead for him to be released into our garden. He’d been with us since January and in a way I was sorry to see him go, although obviously it was the right thing to do. We waited until dusk, then put the cat basket out under the apple tree where there was plenty of cover for him and just let him come out whenever he was ready. (I was tempted to have the Born Free theme tune playing the background but resisted) This is him emerging from the cat box and taking his first steps in our garden.

I left the trail cam out for the next couple of nights and sure enough he appeared, making a beeline for the food I’d put out. I’m fairly sure it’s him in these next 2 clips as it’s a pretty big hedgehog so I reckon that’s our boy!

Assuming it is him, he seems to be doing well and has obviously found somewhere safe to rest during the day and knows where I put food and water out each night. Live long and prosper Meadow!

I’d been putting the trail camera out in the hope of getting hoggy videos for a few weeks before Meadow’s release. Most of the footage was of course taken in the dark, but I got this one short film of a hedgehog in the very early hours of the morning in daylight (I think the camera’s clock was out by an hour or two though as it wasn’t this light at 04:30am). Hopefully he or she was just getting a last minute snack before hiding away for the day somewhere.

It’s never easy to distinguish the hedgehogs in the garden (apart from Meadow’s currently distinctive chubby form), so it’s difficult to know how many we get. But a lot of trail cam footage shows a pair of hogs, so we know we’ve got at least 2 (3 now with Meadow).

The first time two appeared together it looked like a fight! Don’t know if it was a territorial dispute between 2 males or an overly aggressive male and female, but the one managed to shove the other half way across the lawn.

The following night though there were 2 hogs again. Not so aggressive this time, although the one did seem to be seriously annoying the other. They circled round like this for well over an hour – was it perhaps the start of mating, with the female playing hard to get initially. Have to admire his persistence if it was courtship, although he did seem to get distracted by the food bowl quite often!

A few days after seeing the possible amorous antics on the trail cam, we spotted several areas of grass, flattened and twisted around – presumably the result of all the circling behaviour. You’ve heard of crop circles, we’ve got hedgehog circles!

So that’s all the news from our garden. If anyone wants to do something extra to support hedgehogs during Awareness Week, there are lots of things that can be done.

To support or encourage hedgehogs into your own garden, you can put out food (never bread or milk) and water. If you have a pond, make sure you install a ramp or some other means for hedgehogs to get out if they fall in. Make sure there are gaps in fences/walls so hedgehogs can come and go between gardens – they roam quite a bit during the night so ideally need a large network of gardens. Be super careful when mowing, particularly with strimmers which can inflict terrible injuries on hedgehogs.

If you don’t have a garden or at least don’t get hedgehogs in it, there are still lots of other ways of supporting them. You could join BHPS – your subscription will help support their work. Or you could simply Text HHOG17 to 70070 to donate £5 to the charity.

There are also hundreds of hedgehog volunteer carers around the country – you could do something to help your local one. Donations of cash or food or other general supplies are always welcome. Our local one is Malvern Hedgehog Rescue and Viv there does amazing work caring for up to 100 rescue hogs at a time. Her website has loads of useful information: http://www.malvernhedgehogrescue.co.uk/

Another great example is Little Silver Hedgehog run by Emma. Not only does she rescue & rehabilitate lots of hedgehogs, her blog https://littlesilverhedgehog.wordpress.com/ is full of useful hoggy advice. In addition she makes beautiful silver jewellery that she sells to raise funds for the hedgehogs – I treated myself to this cute pendant to celebrate getting the job with BHPS.

And finally you could always just tweet or post a message on Facebook (or go old school and talk to people) showing your support for these lovely animals – they need all the help they can get.

Bags of Bees and Blossom

I’ve not managed to blog anything in the last few weeks, but it’s not been for lack of things going on in the garden. Almost the opposite in fact – spring is here and so much wildlife in our garden is stirring, that I can hardly keep up with it!

The apple tree has been in full blossom the last few weeks. 2017 seems to be one of those years where the whole tree turns pinky white with flowers. Comparing this year’s photo (top) with 2016 (below), there is a huge difference in the amount of blossom. It is also in full flower a lot earlier – this year it peaked mid April, last year what little there was peaked in early May. Due to the mild winter or just a natural cycle?

With an apple tree full of blossom, you would of course expect a load of bees. What I hadn’t expected was this Girdle Snail sitting pretty in the middle of it all!

Apart from the stray molluscs though there were indeed plenty of bees. Honey bees were probably the most common. We get lots in the garden, I’d love to know if someone is keeping bees nearby (feel they owe us a pot of honey if they are!)

There have also been plenty of these small Red Mason Bees (Osmia bicornis)

and these slightly larger Buff-tailed Bumblebees (Bombus terrestris)

I usually only see these Ashy Mining Bees (Andrena cineraria) flying low around the grass, so it was nice to catch one up in the tree. I’ve got a soft spot for this species – probably because it’s one of only two Andrena species I can identify at a glance with its distinctive black and white colouration.

The other Andrena species I know easily is this female Tawny Mining Bee (Andrena fulva). The females have this amazing bright red bushy appearance. I thought we had them in the garden last year, but never managed a photo to confirm. This year I finally snapped one, which made it the 27th confirmed bee species for the garden (actually now at 28, but more on that in another blog post).

As well as the above, I’ve also spotted Hairy Footed Flower Bees, Red-tailed Bumblebees and at least one other Andrena species making the most of the blossom. The final one that I actually managed to get a (bad) photo of was this Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum). These relative newcomers to the UK are one of our most frequent and distinctive bumblebees in the garden.

The Tree Bumblebees have also turned up in a most unlikely place this last week. Our next door neighbour was clearing out his garage when he moved a bag of waste fluff from the tumble dryer. Much to his surprise the bag was full of bees! A colony of Tree Bumblebees had decided that a bag of tumble dryer fluff was the perfect place to nest and they weren’t happy at being moved. I offered to take the fluffy bag of bees, but with hindsight I should maybe have thought it through first. I put the bag under a lean-to cover we’ve got, where we sit out if it’s raining.  Unfortunately this is probably where it’s going to have to stay. I can’t leave it out in the open, as the fluff will probably set like cement if it gets wet and I don’t want to entomb the bees in their nest. I also daren’t move it again as it might crush the nest. So we’ll have to share the lean-to with a bag of bees for the summer.

I then spent about an hour yesterday lying flat on the floor trying to get photos of the bees coming and going from the bag. As it happens they seem to be accessing the nest right next to a small smiley face sticker that’s somehow ended up in there amongst the fluff. It makes me smile every time I look at these photos!

The Tree Bumblebees aren’t the only ones to have been popping up in unexpected places. The new nest box that we put up back in January has unfortunately not attracted any nesting birds yet. But I was surprised to spot this large bumblebee bouncing about inside it a few weeks ago. I’d have settled for a bee nest in the absence of a birdy one, but after a few minutes clumsily wandering around, it buzzed off.

So it’s only April and we already have, quite literally, bags of bees in the garden!

Out and About – Grimley Brick and Gravel Pits

The weekend brought some gloriously sunny weather – forget spring, it felt like we had skipped ahead to summer. So we ventured forth, if not very far, to Grimley which is just north of Worcester. Grimley has several old flooded gravel extraction pits, which now form important wildfowl sites for the county. There are 2 main areas – each situated conveniently next to a pub!

The first pit we went to was off Wagon Wheel Lane. The Worcester Birding twitter feed had been full of news that an American wigeon had been spotted amongst our British wigeons. Having never seen a wigeon of any nationality, we hoped to see some. Having said that, it would probably have helped if we’d googled what a wigeon looked like before we set off! All we really knew was that they were ducks, so we snapped photos of anything vaguely duck like.  Fortunately when we got back and studied the photos, it turned out we had seen some of the British ones, although no sign of the elusive American. As with so many birds the male (top) is flashier looking than the relatively plain female (below).

Of course while chasing anything duck like, we inevitably got pics of a few other species. This lucky female Northern Shoveller was accompanied by at least 5 males.

Tufted ducks were bobbing about everywhere. I love the clean lines of the black and white plumage and the bright golden eye of the males.

Another species that was new to us was the Common Teal. We didn’t manage to get very close and from a distance we thought initially these were just mallards, until we spotted the creamy yellow rump. From our distant viewpoint it hadn’t been possible to make out the beautiful red and green plumage on the head, but thanks to the power of the zoom on the computer we could appreciate it back home.

Possibly the stars of the show for us on this trip were the exotic looking Great Crested Grebes – birds that we’d only ever seen on Springwatch before.  We got a fairly close up view of this one, although as with most birds it hid behind twigs to avoid decent photos.

There was a pair though doing what looked like a courtship display on the far side of the lake. They bobbed up and down facing each other. If they’d been a bit closer I’d have tried videoing it, but they were just too far away for that.

Love seemed to be in the air for a pair of swans too. One was already on the lake when another one landed further away. The first one spotted it and hurtled across the water – I thought at first it was an aggressive or territorial thing, but then they started entwining their necks around each other, so I guess they had other things in mind!

After a short pit stop at the Camp House Inn, we headed to the other set of pits nearby. First sight was this heron – I’d never studied one before and hadn’t realised just how large they were. We tried creeping closer to get a better shot, but as we were going across an open field, he spotted us straight away and flew off when he considered we were too close for comfort.

These lakes were clearly popular with a group of cormorants that were perched on fence posts in the middle and in trees. I still find it hard to get my head round seeing what I think of as sea birds this far in land!

As we headed back to the car we spotted some smaller birds. The first is definitely a reed bunting (which proves we are learning something as we didn’t know this before we went to Upton Warren a few weeks ago).

The second is either a chiffchaff or a willow warbler – you can apparently only differentiate them confidently by their song. We weren’t paying attention to the song, but having listened to both of them on the RSPB website, the chiffchaff song seems the more familiar, so this is maybe what we heard. Either way it was a very cute, tiny little bird that bobbed up and down wagging its tail a bit like a wagtail does.

As always while Chris concentrated on the birds, I kept getting side tracked by the insects. There were quite a few large bumblebees buzzing around and the pussy willow was provided much needed sustenance to several, like this Red Tailed Bumblebee.

While trying to get a decent photo of a buff tailed bumblebee, I spotted (no pun intended) this pair of 24 spot ladybirds. They were very small and the grass they were on was waving around in the breeze, hence the less than perfect photo. They were slightly less shiny than other ladybirds and look as if they have a fine covering of downy hairs, which would make them the 24 spot ones  – a new one for me.

When I was looking at the red ladybirds above, I hadn’t noticed at the time that there was a pile of creamy coloured ones right next to them. Again they are not perfectly in focus, as I obviously wasn’t focussing on them as I didn’t know they were there! These ones turned out to be 16 spot ladybirds – another new species.

And finally, because I can never resist a comedy photo – here is the very rare 4 winged duck and a rather splendid pair of owls on top of the Wagon Wheel Inn’s thatched roof.

Hedgehog Housekeeping

Just a short post today with an update on our foster hedgehog Meadow. We’ve had him now since early January and I’m very relieved that’s he survived the winter with us! We’ve been weighing him every fortnight and although he’s lost a bit of weight, he is still a very healthy 800g or so – plenty heavy enough to see him through to the spring hopefully.

Since we last weighed him he has become increasingly active and has presumably decided he’s had enough of hibernation. For the first 2 months our care duties had consisted mainly of checking each day that he had fresh water and food, but while he was asleep, there was little else to do.

Now he is an eating and pooping machine! His food bowl is at best empty every morning and at worst he’s pooped in it! The water bowl is regularly slopped about soaking the newspapers and he has generally managed to poop in every corner of the hutch! So every day he needs fresh food, water and newspapers and a general clean of the hutch. We never see him though (apart from when we take him out to weigh), he’s always buried in the hay when we look in.

Invisible he may be, but since he is clearly very active when we’re not around, I had a go with the old trail camera in his hutch.  There’s not much space to position it without disturbing him, but I managed to get it wedged by the roof out of his way and he seemed blissfully unaware of it. The field of view is pretty small since it is so close up, but I got lots of clips of him doing what he’s good at – eating and pooping and rearranging his bedding. He clearly doesn’t approve of my style of housekeeping (nor does my husband Chris probably, but that’s a different story) as he is constantly dragging the hay and/or the newspapers around to where he thinks they should be.

So below are a couple of stills taken from the video showing him a) eating of course and b) dragging the hay around. Then there is a compilation of video clips taken over roughly a 24 hour period. Note his food bowl starts of clean and full of food and ends up empty and covered in poop and hay! But he’s a little character and we will miss him when we eventually get the go ahead for releasing him in the spring.